Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich apologized Wednesday in a lengthy Facebook post for his earlier comments that the Palestinian village of Huwara “needs to be wiped out.”
Since making the initial remarks a week ago, he has walked them back several times. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Saturday night welcomed the clarification by Smotrich that he did not mean that innocents should be harmed. However, Smotrich had stopped short of an apology until Wednesday.
In his post, which runs to nearly 1,600 words, Smotrich recounted his shock at being told by a friend, a fighter pilot with senior rank in the Israeli Air Force, of the impact his remarks had had among other pilots.
“He explained to me that some of the pilots had understood my remark as a call for the IAF to ‘wipe out’ Huwara and its residents from the air. Such an intent, on the part of a senior minister and member of the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet, in combination with what they perceive to be the granting of unchecked power to the government as a result of judicial reform, had caused them real anxiety,” he wrote.
“In their view, this could result in the IAF being given such an absolutely illegal order, which of course they were not prepared to carry out,” he added.
This, he continued, cast in a different light the recent announcement by a group of Israel Air Force reserve fighter pilots that they would skip a day of combat training in protest against the proposed judicial reforms.
“It wasn’t a matter of cynical campaign excuse by the pilots in the context of the opposition to the reforms, but rather real and deep concern that had led them to do what they had,” he said.
“It is important for me to first apologize to the IDF and its commanders, with an emphasis on the IAF, if I had a part in breaking the trust so important between the IDF, as the people’s army, to the elected [government]” Smotrich wrote.
Smotrich, 43, is also a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of civilian affairs in Judea and Samaria, with broad authority over policy decisions there. His authority covers Area C of Judea and Samaria, as defined by the Oslo Accords, where Smotrich plans to accelerate the building of Jewish communities and limit Palestinian development; more than half of Huwara is located in Area C.
His initial remarks came two days after Israeli brothers Hallel Menachem and Yagel Yaakov Yaniv were shot dead in Huwara on Feb. 26. Later that night, a few hundred Jews rioted in the town, with some setting fire to Palestinian property and engaging in clashes with local Arabs. One Palestinian was reportedly killed during a riot in a nearby town that occurred at the same time.
During a panel discussion, Smotrich said that Huwara “needs to be wiped out,” adding, “I think the State of Israel should do this and not—God forbid—private citizens.”
His comments caused a firestorm, including in Washington, with the Biden administration considering denying him an entry visa to attend an Israel Bonds conference in the U.S. capital this Sunday. The White House said last week that no U.S. government official would meet with Smotrich during his stay in D.C.